WE MUST FLING WIDE
THE ONLINE GATES
An item posted recently on Facebook recalled that in October of 1982 a joint House and Senate resolution acknowledged that Holy Scripture, as “the Word of God,” is “the rock on which our Republic rests,” and declared that 1983 would be celebrated as the “Year of the Bible.”
Almost four decades later — after countless debates over religious symbols in public spaces, a near-complete cleansing of faith from public education, and relentless efforts to force church-related institutions to adapt their policies and procedures to some highly questionable secular legal standards — it’s hard to imagine such a robust governmental salute to our nation’s spiritual roots.
We worry less these days about religious statements from Congress than about how long we’re going to be free to express our faith publicly. Indeed, we’ve come to a time when biblical citations are regarded as hate speech, and references to Judeo-Christian ethics are seen as trying to curtail other people’s rights.
Concern about free expression has been heightened over the past few weeks as media attention has focused on efforts by social networks and other online providers to impose content restrictions on their users.
The suspensions of Alex Jones, David Horowitz, Franklin Graham, and other prominent commentators from Facebook and Twitter gives clear warning that the Web is no longer the free-speech promised land it once seemed to be. What’s also clear is that conservative views and traditional moral assertions are much more likely to draw attention from Internet censors than are expressions of woke opinion.
Including Louis Farrakhan among those figures offensive to Mark Zuckerberg was an all-too transparent attempt to show that FB’s stand against hate is not ideologically driven.
For the time being, it looks like the Web is still open to religious discussion. You can find lively debate over whether Catholic teaching on the perpetual virginity of Mary is biblically based or whether the Protestant doctrines of sola scriptura and sola fides are authentically Christian. Such arcane theological hair splitting matters little to the worldly gatekeepers of Silicon Valley…
I mean, who cares about all that churchy stuff in our sophisticated age when we’ve moved beyond mystical speculation and superstitious nonsense?
But try making an energetic religious critique of whatever stylish sexual depravity is in vogue this month. You could spend time in Facebook jail.
The issue of online censorship must be addressed. It cuts too close to our fundamental American freedoms.
And — much as my free-market sensibilities are pained by saying it — government is probably going to have to take the lead in addressing the issue.
My conservative heart aches at the prospect of further bureaucratic regulation of modern life. But the kinds of broad communication services online entrepreneurs provide are a public good, taking them beyond the realm of simple one-to-one supplier-customer exchange.
In essence, these “Big Tech” outfits have become the phone company, and as such, they must maintain the same neutrality as the old Bell System. Thus, they should be alert to indications of criminal or terrorist activity. They might be called upon to restrict pornography. But they cannot be free to impose their standards on message content at the level of opinion or partisan interest.
Writing for the Powerline blog, journalist Steven Hayward, distinguished fellow at Ashland University’s Ashbrook Center, points to a body of case law which has established that…
“…private property that is used in a mode of public conveyance ceases to be strictly private property…”
He notes that “this is the basis for prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race in restaurants, hotels, and so forth…” and argues that these precedents…
“might be brought to bear to support the conclusion that the Internet giants and social media platforms that discriminate on the basis of viewpoint are violating fundamental civil rights, even if they are nominally ‘private’ enterprises.”
Not everyone agrees that regulation is the answer. In fact, some see it as contributing to the problem.
Writing for the online journal, American Greatness, Pittsburgh attorney Thomas Farnan blames an overly broad interpretation of intellectual property law for allowing Facebook and other providers to apply the heavy hand of ideological control…
“Zuckerberg did not invent anything,” Farnan insists. “The computer, the microchip, and the ability to program them were invented long before he started diddling with Atari BASIC.”
“In a healthy society, Facebook would have been reverse engineered 20 times by now, and the banned voices would simply take their business elsewhere.
“Instead, Facebook and other social media sites are government-protected monopolies. They have successfully sold themselves as inventions that are protected by intellectual property laws.”
Farnan’s preferred solution is increasing competition…
“Computer programs are written on paper, sure, but they are not artistic expressions. The same law adopted to protect The Great Gatsby from unlicensed duplication should not protect the kid who wrote an instruction manual in his college dorm room for his computer to act as a social network.
“There should be incentives for the kid, obviously. He should even get rich. But he should not be rewarded with a government-enforced exclusive franchise in something someone else would have done if he did not.”
Perhaps the solution lies in a more adroit balancing of competition and regulation, to increase entrepreneurial opportunity even as we guard freedom of expression more zealously.
Not an easy balance to strike, I’m sure. But essential to American liberty and to our lives as people of faith.
Freedom of expression is more important than ever — particularly freedom of religious expression — because times have changed, and we can no longer depend on government to endorse or defend our Judeo-Christian culture. It’s especially important online, the realm in which ideas and opinion are primarily shared these days.
“Big Tech” cannot be permitted to impose its ideological perspective on its customers. Zuckerberg and his cronies must not be our intellectual gatekeepers.
Thought is life.
Or to put it another way in the Facebook age…
I post, therefore I am.
“…religious freedom includes the freedom to practice our faith in public. In our culture, some tend to think that religious liberty means only that individuals can worship without interference from the government. This understanding is inadequate. Religious schools, hospitals, and charities should be able to operate in accordance with their faith. Indeed, the work of these organizations is part and parcel of their faith. They are expressions of religious mission, and religions must have the space to live out their missions.”
Check out the reference on the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops…
Mark Zuckerberg has become the public face of online speech regulation. That’s not altogether fair, since Google, Twitter, and other “Big Tech” players are also involved. Nevertheless, he gets the Photoshop treatment regularly…
Of course, those rather vague Facebook “community standards” can flag all kinds of seemingly reasonable posts, such as this rather tame commentary on the campaign to remove historical monuments…
While recent suspensions have ratcheted up media interest in online censorship, it’s been going on for some time. Back in 2017 a priest of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, Fr. John Higgins, found himself in Facebook jail over a thoughtful reflection on Muslim persecution of Christians…
“There are peaceful and good Muslim people,” his post reads in part. “And then there are the Islamists who are defended by the ignorant who refuse to learn history.”
He didn’t take it lying down. A follow-up commentary on his banning caused a stir, as reported at the time by the online journal, Church Pop. Read it here…
Writing on Townhall, Rachel Alexander, editor of the Intellectual Conservative, points out that tech companies have claimed that they are not responsible for the content they host even as they attempt to restrict that content. The question which must be settled is: Are they acting as platforms or as publishers?…
Check our her thoughts at…